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4 reasons why schools shouldn’t play “immigration police”

Amongst the various proposals put forth to deal with illegal immigration there is a perennial one: catch ’em at school. People generally want their children to get educated, and also, free public schools are free childcare, right?

School children in New Mexico in 1941. (Wikimedia Commons)

So the thought goes like this: Figure out which “illegal kids” are at schools, and then go after their parents.

Britain is already doing it. And with conservatives in control of the U.S. federal government, we might be following close on their heels.

Here’s why forcing schools to track undocumented kids is a bad idea:

An educated population is always better

This is a rule that never changes, no matter which kids you’re talking about: If you want your country to function better, you want educated people.

Educated people are healthier, they have fewer children, they provide more skilled labor, they pay more taxes.

If you force undocumented adults to keep their kids at home, the only net change is that our country has fewer educated people, which means they’ll have more kids, be unskilled workers, and pay less in taxes.

This is not what we want.

Healthier kids make a healthier society

Children eating school lunch in Virginia. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)

Our public schools don’t just educate. They offer free health testing such as vision and hearing. They screen kids for severe dental problems. Teachers are trained to watch for signs of physical abuse.

The reason we put this money into our public schools is that it is paid back many times over. Healthier kids are cheaper to have in our society than sick kids. Sick kids turn into sick adults, who need more care, and more expensive care.

This is not what we want.

The job of educators is to educate

When we attempt to turn teachers into anything but educators, we end up with conflicts that muddy their job descriptions and decrease their effectiveness. This is something that you’ll hear conservatives say often: Teachers should just be teaching the “three R’s.”

In that case, it looks like we agree on this: If we turn teachers into immigration police, they will have less time to teach, and less focus when they are teaching.

This is not what we want.

“Street Urchin” by John George Brown, 1885 (Wikimedia Commons)

Going after children is not only unethical, it’s un-Christian

The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin. [Deuteronomy 24:16]

We have a long tradition in Western culture of not blaming children for what their parents do. If we decide to change this tradition, should we imprison children whose parents are convicted of felonies? Should we refuse to feed children whose parents are unwilling to work? Do we leave children with abusive parents simply because the child was born to those parents?

Children of those who have immigrated to the U.S. without legal papers have done nothing wrong. They shouldn’t have to fear going to school. We may as a society decide that undocumented adult workers should fear our government. But allowing immigration officials to catch families through their children imposes immoral burdens upon the children.

This is not what we want.

In other words, quite simply, Britain is doing the wrong thing. Our government has historically done the right thing. Let’s keep it that way.

Posted in Culture, Education.

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